Insight – Class and Education: The National View

We here at the Martin Prosperity Institute recently worked with the Atlantic Cities to release a series of reports that depict the occupational class divide within major cities in the U.S. By looking at the geographical locations of occupation within cities, a socio-economic divide within the labour force is shown. We here at the Martin Prosperity Institute are always looking at new ways to understand the relationships among occupations, skills, education and regional prosperity. In the past we have primarily examined these relationships at the U.S. metro level, but this Insight will be the first in a continuing series in which the economic potential of U.S. census tracts within metropolitan areas is examined. The series will expand on the Atlantic Cities posts by looking at the relationship between the occupational classes while adding an additional metric: educational attainment (Bachelor’s degree and above). This Insight is the first of the series and looks at our results for the U.S. as a whole. Future Insights will look at specific city/regions around the U.S.

For this Insight series, the data was analyzed at the census tract level according to where people live1. For each tract we calculated the share of Creative Class (CC), Service Class (SC), Working Class (WC) and Farming, Fishing and Forestry (FFF) occupations, along with the share of people 25 years and older with a Bachelor’s degree or above. This allows us to simultaneously compare education levels with the occupational classes at the census tract level.

For each Insight that we release in this series, a corresponding map, similar to Exhibit 1 will be attached for a particular city or region. Exhibit 1 presents the educational attainment levels of each census tract, in relation to their dominant occupational class. Each tract has its primary colour assignment according to which class has the largest percentage of that particular tracts labour force: CC is purple, SC is red, WC is blue and FFF is green. The darker the shade each particular tract is coloured, the higher the percentage of people 25+ within that tract hold a BA or above.

Overall, our map sheds light on the fact that many local economies within the U.S. have a primarily service class working force. Previous Insights have discussed the economic (GDP) and innovative (patents) capacity of the north-east coastal metros, which is shown in Exhibit 1 by the large number of highly educated Creative Class tracts that can be found there. The map also reveals that much of the south, especially outside of urban centers has a lower educated labour force, independent of which class is dominant in a tract. Most of the tracts within the south have a labour force in which the primary class is service or working, and where the educational attainment rate is low. In further Insights in this series, we will also explore metropolitan areas in the relatively highly educated, diverse central states such as Colorado, Wyoming and Montana. The tracts within these states are diverse occupationally, while having relatively high levels of educational attainment, even in primarily WC and SC areas.

Exhibit 1: Share of population 25+ with a BA or above

Share of population 25+ with a BA or above

Click to view larger map.

Exhibit 2 displays which census tracts have the highest share of residents with a BA and above. The figure is sorted first by the occupational class (Creative, Service, etc.) that employs the greatest percentage of people within that area. We then sorted these census tracts from the highest to lowest shares of educational attainment. A top ten list is provided for the metros that have the highest educational attainment rates. The total workforce within each census tract is also provided. At first glance, displayed is that the tracts within each top ten list are quite small. The most educated tracts are primarily Service Class tracts, not the primarily Creative Class tracts. When viewing the tracts in which the largest share of employment is within WC or FFF occupations, generally the overall educational attainment is much lower than primarily SC and CC tracts. Anne Arundel County Maryland for example is the only primarily WC tract in which the rate of educational attainment is higher than the SC and CC occupational shares combined. This could indicate that in this county there are a number of highly educated WC employees. Exhibit 2 also displays that while the most educated primarily WC and FFF boast a diverse labour force in which the occupational shares are more evenly distributed amongst at least three classes, the most educated primarily SC and CC tracts are dominated by one of those two occupational classes only.

An educated labour force spread across different occupational classes often leads to greater prosperity, as within the knowledge economy the interactions between highly skilled workers increases competition and productivity. This Insight has provided an overview of which census tracts throughout the U.S. have the most educated labour forces, and which is the tract’s primary occupational class. The Martin Prosperity Institute will continue to examine these relations as we will release numerous Insights within this series that will look in greater detail at cities and regions.

Exhibit 2: Top ten census tracts with a BA+

Top ten census tracts with a BA+

Download this Insight (PDF)

The Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto‘s Rotman School of Management is the world’s leading think-tank on the role of sub-national factors — location, place and city-regions — in global economic prosperity. We take an integrated view of prosperity, looking beyond economic measures to include the importance of quality of place and the development of people’s creative potential.